By and  on January 13, 2006

NEW YORK — Chanel married society and beauty Wednesday night with a grand fete to celebrate the launch of one svelte little lipstick.

A crowd of over 100 jammed Lever House, including Alan Cumming, Helena Christensen, Stephen Gaghan, Damon Dash, Alek Wek, Rena Sindi, Serena Boardman, Tinsley Mortimer, Rufus Wainwright and Anne Slater.

The occasion was to celebrate the late April launch of Rouge Allure Luminous Satin Lip Colour, a new lipstick sporting the first major redesign of Chanel's classic, sleek packaging. The importance of the event for Chanel was underscored by the presence of Dominique Moncourtois, international director of Chanel Make-Up Creation, who was on hand to help U.S. president Maureen Chiquet host the party. During an interview Tuesday, Moncourtois hinted that Rouge Allure is the opening salvo in a coming stream of innovations for Chanel beauty.

During the party, Chiquet discussed the new lipstick, $29 per tube, as the brand's most expensive lip color, and asserted that it "will become our most luxurious, aspirational lipstick line." Noting that many elements of the lipstick's design were calculated to exude luxury, Chiquet borrowed a line from the house's founder. "As Coco Chanel said, ‘Luxury is something you can do without, but don't.'

"Lip color is very important to us — particularly because Mademoiselle Chanel really established the habit of wearing lip color every day," said Chiquet, noting that before Chanel's 1924 introduction of Rouge de Chanel, the company's first lipstick, lip color was usually confined to the stage.

Moncourtois said, "2006 is going to be the most important year ever [for Chanel] in terms of makeup and skin care," hinting that a new mascara and several other innovations were planned for the second half of 2006. "The next five years are going to be incredible. Lots of things are coming, and we have incredible opportunities in color and skin care technology, as well as packaging."

Moncourtois, who was hired by Coco Chanel herself in 1968, now composes new beauty products with Heidi Morawetz, director of Chanel Make-Up Creation. The pair works in Chanel's Studio Creation Maquillage, the company's international makeup studio in Paris. At any given time, Moncourtois and Morawetz may be working on as many as three dozen concepts — although, on average, just 10 percent end up in the line. "We test a lot of things," said Moncourtois, "but we're not going to manufacture something just for the sake of manufacturing it. Everything we do must have a point of difference, or there is no point in Chanel offering it."We take our time, the time that is necessary to get the product right," he emphasized. "If we need one year more, we take that year so that our finished product offers an added value for the consumer."

Take, for instance, Rouge Allure's packaging. Unlike traditional lipstick cases — designed so the user pulls the top of the case off a base — Rouge Allure is designed to be opened with a gentle tap of its gold top. Once that tip is pushed, a spring mechanism releases the lipstick and its base from the outer cap.

But while the vision for Rouge Allure was always clear, the practicalities weren't — in fact, it took nearly eight months to find a technical packaging solution that delivered both an easy spring and a satisfying "thunk," said Moncourtois. "It's comparable to slamming the door on a luxury car," he explained. "The sound is luxury. And much of this case is brass, not plastic, so it has a substantial feel." The detailing is carried right down to the inside of the top of the case — if the user peers into its bottom, the iconic double-C logo is evident. "The point was to deliver a luxury object," said Moncourtois, adding the Chanel name is lasered into the lipstick bullet itself.

Such attention to detail was central to Chanel's lofty goal for the product. "Our aim is to make Rouge Allure our number-one lipstick line," said Christine Dagousset, executive vice president of fragrance and beauté for Chanel, noting the lipstick is designed to be a long-lasting yet smooth formula.

It includes silicones for a smooth application and long-lasting adherence, said Moncourtois, adding the formula also contains vitamin E derivatives for free radical protection, and shea butter and canola oil extract to smooth the lips. "We wanted a formula which felt very fresh on the lips and that could be applied in one swipe," Moncourtois explained.

Rouge Allure will be available in 22 shades in the American market. Four additional shades exist, although color families will vary by market. "The light in Tokyo, for instance, is much different than it is in Paris or New York," said Moncourtois. "We are recognizing that fact [by customizing color assortments for each market]."One color that will appear in every mix is Mademoiselle Chanel's signature red, launched in 1924. "Mademoiselle Chanel saw red as a very feminine, attractive color for women," he said. And she was a stickler for application: "When I worked with her," remembered Moncourtois, "Mademoiselle Chanel continually reminded me of the importance of precision and perfectly finished work. She was very precise. That lesson has stayed with me."

In the U.S., Rouge Allure will be available in about 850 U.S. department and specialty store doors. While none of the executives would discuss sales projections or advertising and promotional spending, industry sources estimated the line would do about $10 million at retail in its first year in the U.S., and that about $2 million would be spent on sales and promotion.

National print ads will break in May fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines, and there will be an intensive sampling campaign. Chanel plans more than 1 million direct-mail pieces, as well as 150,000 deluxe samples.

At Lever House Wednesday night, bathroom mirrors were decorated with Coco Chanel quotes, in French, written in Rouge Allure — "Luck is a way of being. Luck is not a little person. Luck is my soul," for instance — while guests amused themselves with the retractable push-button lipstick tubes found on every table.

Alan Cumming seemed tickled to discover he was attending a lipstick party. That didn't stop him from putting in a plug for his own fragrance and its new ancillaries. But he seemed more preoccupied with his upcoming role on Broadway in a revival of "Threepenny Opera," in which he will star with Cyndi Lauper. Before he can concentrate on that, Cumming must finish work on "Suffering Man's Charity," a film that co-stars David Boreanaz, Anne Heche and Henry Thomas.

Also in the crowd were seemingly out-of-place "Syriana" writer and director Stephen Gaghan, who was tagging along with Helena Christensen; Bettina Zilkha, who debated the "Million Little Pieces" controversy with Eleanor Ylvisaker and bemoaned forgetting to Tivo the evening's already legendary episode of "Larry King Live"; Padma Lakshmi, just back from filming a BBC movie with Sean Bean, who, unhappy with her sea bass, begged for a side of mashed potatoes and said she'd need to stop for a dosa, and London transplant Rena Sindi, who was passing through New York on her way to a four-day family reunion in the Bahamas."I feel like I'm traveling from beach to beach," she half-complained.

She was in good company. It was the first night back on the scene for many New York socials, from Elizabeth Lindemann to Lisa Airan and Shoshanna Gruss, and sometimes it can be a rickety start. Thank goodness there was plenty of lipstick to keep the double-cheek kisses on their marks. Tiffany Dubin, however, just back from spending the holidays in Palm Beach, Fla., with her parents and daughter, had other ideas.

She uncapped a coral-hued Rouge Allure and decorated the wine glass in front of her with a flourish.

With contributions from Jenny B. Fine and Marshall Heyman

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